The Friday Wire: Barling liquor and a chicken chief change

by The City Wire staff ( 11 views 

A second look at a third high school, sudden departure of a chicken chief, Barling’s liquor request and the potential contest between Hillary and Huckabee are part of the Feb. 28 Friday Wire for the Fort Smith region.

A second look at a third high school
Kudos to the Fort Smith Public School Board of Directors for agreeing to a request by a group of Fort Smith business leaders to conduct more due diligence on how to best respond to the future facility needs of the public school system.

Plans for a third Fort Smith high school have been discussed for some time, though a formal pitch for the more than $65 million high school was made at a January school board meeting.

At the time, Dr. Benny Gooden, superintendent of schools, said the district needed a new high school due to continued enrollment increases in the district coupled with an eventual plan to re-align the schools to have freshman be on high school campuses instead of the current configuration, which places freshman in the city's junior high schools.

The business group has expressed concerns not only about the necessity of a third high school, but about the future operational and administrative costs to the district of a third campus.

Let’s hope the due diligence is thorough, transparent and devoid of any bias used to push the initial recommendation. Fort Smith could use a healthy dose of efficiency, innovation and vision in at least one of its local government operations.

Following are a few stories posted this week on The City Wire that we hope you didn’t miss. But in case you missed it …

Sudden departure of CEO of O.K. Foods
O.K. Foods is under new leadership after the resignation of CEO Paul Fox, but the company is keeping quiet as to why Fox may have left the company. Donna Miller of O.K. Foods confirmed in a telephone call with The City Wire that Fox had resigned from the company, but declined to provide details or the date his resignation became effective.

Business friendly discussion
Development and business friendliness took center stage for much of a more than hour long brainstorming session of the Fort Smith Board of Directors on Monday night (Feb. 24). The session, which was absent a set agenda in order to allow a free flow of ideas among Board members and the administration, started with City Director Keith Lau simply asking what the city could do to make it easier for citizens needing to do business with the municipality.

Energy overregulation warning
A U.S. Chamber of Commerce official warned an Arkansas audience that overregulation of fracking practices in the oil and gas industry could cost jobs, tax revenue, and the overall economy.

2016: The original start date for Whirlpool's remediation of a toxic plume of trichloroethylene (TCE). The company is under a remediation plan by the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality and notified the agency this week that it would speed up its remediation schedule by two years, starting chemical injections to neutralize the cancer-causing TCE within weeks.

$12.716 million: Revenue from Arkansas’ 2% tourism tax set a record in 2013 by reaching $12.716 million, and the state’s tourism chief is predicting that 2014 could be even better for Arkansas’ tourism and travel sector. The 2013 collections were up 2.5% compared to the $12.405 million in 2012, and well ahead of the $11.378 million slump in 2009 when national economic conditions proved tough on Arkansas’ tourism industry.

6.55%: Increase in number of January home sales in Arkansas’ four largest metro markets compared to January 2013, according to The City Wire’s Arkansas Home Sales Report.

Hillary and Huckabee
The likely 2016 matchup in Iowa if the race were held today would be former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton against former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, with Clinton ahead, according to a new poll. The former first lady and senator leads all her potential Republican challengers by at least 4 points. She tops Huckabee 46% to 42%, Bush 45% to 41%, Paul 47% to 42% and Christie 45% to 39%.

Bill and Hillary papers
The Clinton Presidential Library will make its first release on Friday (Feb. 28) of records that were previously withheld from the public under legal provisions that expired early last year, a spokeswoman for the National Archives said. About 4,000 to 5,000 pages will be put online at 1 P.M. Friday, with paper copies becoming simultaneously available at the library in Little Rock, the spokeswoman said. More releases are expected in the next couple of weeks.

Tough path for states seeking Medicaid expansion
Of the 25 states that already have expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, all but Arkansas, Iowa and Michigan simply added newly eligible adults to their existing Medicaid programs. That was the easiest approach. In contrast, the states that haven’t yet expanded Medicaid but are considering doing so want to tailor the program to fit their own priorities—and that will take time.

“I think we’re going to have a good season this year. I think holding on during the bad times was a victory. From what I can tell, if the weather will let us alone for a while, we’re going to have a good year. I think people are a little more sure about the economy. I think they’ve got a little money in their pockets. And I think after this winter, they may have some severe cabin fever they want to solve. So I’m looking forward to a good year.”
— Richard Davies, executive director of the Arkansas Parks & Tourism Department, when asked about the tourism industry performance in 2014

"The last time (changes in legislation were proposed in 2013), there was a lot of opposition to it both from the existing alcohol lobby and all the people who run liquor stores. The last thing they want to see is more stores. It cuts into their business. They want to be the only game in town, especially if they are on the border (of a wet and a dry county)."
— Fort Smith attorney Matthew Ketcham, speaking about an attempt by the city of Barling to change Arkansas’ liquor laws to allow the municipality to conduct a wet-dry vote

“(A) court facing a defendant arrested with a gun would interpret the statute based upon its plain meaning. When all is said and done, how can the court punish a person for following the literal and unambiguous meaning of the statute? A person should not be expected to consult the history of the law’s passage, or its political context, to understand what it proscribes."
— University of Arkansas law professor Laurent Sacharoff and law student Jacob Worlow, on their review of a law that has allowed for open carry of handguns in Arkansas